I have to be honest… I never thought I would ever be taking a cruise. The idea of being on a ship for a number of days never appealed to me. So when I was invited by Princess Cruises to join them on a 7-day cruise around Northern Spain, France and the Channel Islands, I had to really think about it. ‘Is cruising for me? Will I ever know if I don’t try it?’ So I decided to try it out and see for myself!
Table of Contents
- 1 Is cruising for me?
- 2 What I loved about cruising
- 2.1 No luggage restrictions or constant packing and unpacking
- 2.2 The comfiest bed ever!
- 2.3 24-hour room service included
- 2.4 Top-notch service
- 2.5 The Sanctuary lived up to its name
- 2.6 The wide range of restaurant choices
- 2.7 Formal dinners – an excuse to dress up
- 2.8 Getting off and on the ship was so easy
- 2.9 Local shore excursions
- 2.10 Setting off from my local port
- 3 What I thought could be improved
- 4 Conclusion – is cruising really for me?
- 5 Check out my other articles about cruising
- 6 Like this post? Pin and save for later
Is cruising for me?
Like most people I know, I had a number of preconceived ideas about cruising and what it’s like. Thoughts like feeling trapped on a ship, feeling seasick, queuing up endlessly to get off and on the ship filled me with dread and it was not my idea of a holiday. However, a lot of my initial worries and preconceptions could not be further from the truth. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experienced and by how much I actually enjoyed it.
What I loved about cruising
No luggage restrictions or constant packing and unpacking
Once I’d decided what to pack for my first cruise, I didn’t have to go through my luggage to try and streamline the packing. I tend to travel with a minimal amount of things, mostly because I don’t want to have to carry it around when I change destinations, but also so I can take my bag as carry on.
Well, I didn’t have to worry about that this time, as there are no luggage restrictions on a cruise and you can bring as much as you like. I ended up bringing two small suitcases, which is unheard of for me! But best of all, is that I was able to unpack everything and, for once, use the hangers in the wardrobe! And no packing again until it was time to go home a week later!
The comfiest bed ever!
I don’t know if this is across every single cruise, but one thing is for sure. My bed on the Sapphire Princess was the comfiest bed I’ve ever slept on. I don’t always sleep as well when I’m travelling as I do at home, and I put it down to constantly changing beds. But now I’m wondering whether it’s because of the beds themselves.
I slept so well while on the cruise, and I felt fully rested in the mornings, even after a late night and an early start the next day. It turns out that the award-winning Princess Luxury Beds have been designed by a sleep doctor. Now it all makes sense!
24-hour room service included
Sometimes you want a late snack before going to bed, or breakfast in your room first thing in the morning. I ordered breakfast through room service a couple of times, and it was lovely to just get up in the morning and have it all delivered to your room. I sat on the balcony of my stateroom with my cup of coffee and pastries as we docked near Bilbao and Bordeaux, enjoying the views of the coast and day dreaming about all the places I’d be discovering on land that day.
I have to mention that I was really impressed by the service onboard the Sapphire Princess. You are assigned a person who will look after your room, and you get to know them a little bit – and them you! It was really lovely to know who is making sure you have everything you need and that everything is taken care of.
I was also very impressed that the crew remembered my name and my favourite drinks. It made me feel truly welcome and cared for.
The Sapphire Princess had 1,100 crew, so that meant almost one member of staff per two passengers!
The Sanctuary lived up to its name
There are plenty of things to do onboard on sea days, but my favourite one was spending the afternoon on The Sanctuary area, an adults-only retreat area. Part of the spa, it was located on the top deck and it felt very far away from everything. The name is certainly fitting.
And after enjoying some afternoon tea with some delicious cakes, I was pampered with a relaxing lime and ginger body scrub and massage at the spa. It was a real treat!
The wide range of restaurant choices
Ok, I’m going to be open about this one… I love food. I loved that food was always available and I certainly made the most of this. But I didn’t love the extra weight around my waist I took home. But that’s my own fault really, so I shouldn’t complain.
So let’s go back to the food. There was something for everyone on the ship – from a buffet available throughout the day, to traditional dining. There were specialty restaurants with Sabatini’s, voted the ‘Best Cruise Ship Specialty Restaurant’ by USA Today, and Sterling Steakhouse, my favourite. There was also a pizzeria serving the ‘Best Pizza at Sea’, as well as an international restaurant.
This was in addition to the grill and the 24-hour café, of which I became a regular for my daily coffee and the odd peanut butter cookie (or two).
Formal dinners – an excuse to dress up
With all the travelling I do I’ve been pretty much living out of a suitcase for the last few years, which means I don’t get to dress up much these days. So I loved having the excuse to make a bit of an effort and do myself up for dinner a couple of times.
These are optional dinners, but I think most people like to spruce up every now and then, so this is a great chance to do it. On the first formal night on the Sapphire Princess, we also had the champagne tower, which was really fun to watch. Some of us even went and joined in the fun of pouring the champagne over the tower of glasses!
Getting off and on the ship was so easy
Princess Cruises takes your passport and immigration documentation details before you board the ship for the first time, so you don’t have to go through immigration every time you disembark on a new port.
I couldn’t believe how quick and easy it is to get off the ship on to land. I didn’t have to queue and there is no security or immigration to get through. A member of the crew scans your cruise card, which is also your room key and charge card, and that’s it. Coming back on board was just as easy, with the exception of having your bag scanned through a security x-ray machine. But it was very smooth and quick.
The only time it took a little bit longer was when we stopped in Guernsey, in the Channel Islands. St Peter’s Port has a small and shallow harbour, so we had to take a tender to shore. But, again, the process of getting off and back on again was surprisingly quick.
Local shore excursions
We stopped at four ports. A Coruña and Bilbao in Northern Spain, Le Verdon for Bordeaux in France, and St Peter’s Port in Guernsey, in the Channel Islands.
We took two organised shore excursions – one in Bilbao and one in the Medoc wine growing region of Bordeaux. What I loved about these tours, was that Princess Cruises used local guides with in-depth knowledge of the local area and customs, and we visited local businesses such as restaurants in Spain and two chateaux in France.
Also, it didn’t feel like a whole cruise ship descended onto these destinations. With disembarkation staggered, and with everyone doing different activities and heading to different areas, it felt like we were all spread across the destination ports. This was one of the concerns I had about cruising.
Setting off from my local port
The route I was on with Princess Cruises covered different ports around the Bay of Biscay, and it set sail from Southampton in the UK. This meant that there were no flights involved, and it was really easy arrive at our ‘holiday destination’ – the cruise ship. It was indeed very strange to, after a quick and smooth check in process, feel like we were already there and it was time to relax and enjoy ourselves.
What I thought could be improved
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Cruising is not the most sustainable way to travel, everyone knows that. But cruise companies like Princess Cruises are making constant improvements to the way they deal with the issue to become more sustainable by developing better waste management processes and moving on to more environmentally friendly fuels like Liquified Natural Gas (LNG). These are changes that take a bit of time to implement across a whole fleet.
However there are a few little things that could be implemented now that I believe can start making a positive impact on their sustainability journey. Things like ending the use of plastic cups and plastic straws, which can be easily be replaced by more sustainable alternatives.
I also noticed that the hot tubs were always switched on, even in the middle of the night, which seems a waste of energy. Perhaps switching them off after a certain time unless requested could help with energy saving.
These are a couple of examples I can think of, but it would be good to see a few ‘little’ changes that can make a big impact.
Wifi connection was very limited on the ship, and perhaps that was a good thing, as it’s good to disconnect sometimes. But as a blogger and traveller, I need to have regular access to my emails, social media accounts and be able to do some work while I travel. So this was a bit of a struggle.
However, Princess Cruises are slowly rolling out high-speed internet capabilities at sea, said to be the best wifi at sea. Some of their ships already have it installed, and it will eventually be on all the ships. So maybe next time I won’t struggle with connectivity. Or maybe I should just learn to completely disconnect for a few days!
There was a great selection of different kinds of entertainment on board. In all honesty, I embraced it all and really enjoyed it.
However, I felt that some of the live entertainment needed a bit of an update to attract a younger crowd. One of the live shows was in a format that maybe would appeal more to an older audience. The music was great, the singers were excellent, but having four female dancers scantily dressed for each fully clothed male dancer is not quite keeping up with the times.
I did, however, love the Movies Under the Stars open-air cinema on the top deck, and the music quiz, which we won (yay!). And every other night was karaoke night. We had so much fun!
Conclusion – is cruising really for me?
If you’d asked me this question before I had the opportunity to go on a cruise, I would have said no without hesitation.
Now that I have been on one, I have to admit that I was really surprised by how much fun I had and how much I enjoyed it. I think it’s a great way to get your friends together and have a bit of a girls (and boys) holiday where you don’t have to worry about the logistics of getting places. If all you want to do is switch off and relax, it’s perfect!
It’s also a great way to get a taster for a destination and find out whether you would like to go back and explore more. I now know I definitely want to go back to Bilbao!
Check out my other articles about cruising
- 33 First Time Cruise Tips – Everything You Need to Know Before Your First Cruise
- Cruising Spain, France and the Channel Islands with Princess Cruises
- Things to Do in A Coruña, Spain – Cruise Itinerary
- The Perfect Itinerary for One Day in Bilbao, Spain – Cruise Itinerary
- 10 Adorable Things to do in Guernsey, Channel Islands UK – Cruise Itinerary
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Disclosure: This trip was taken in partnership with Princess Cruises, who hosted me on this trip. As always, all views are my own.
Teresa is an award-winning travel blogger based in London. She’s on a mission to explore the world through responsible cultural and adventure travel, and through deeper, more meaningful local experiences. She’s a lover of adventure, the outdoors and everything food related, and she’s always looking for ways to make a positive impact through sustainable travel.